Two Little-Known WW2 Stories You Should Know

With the upcoming Memorial Day weekend here in the US, a pair of little-known, but highly significant stories have popped up on the news (and the Net) that should be common knowledge the world over.

The first is rather near and dear to my Chicago heart. As the American war effort geared up in 1942, and as aircraft carriers were shown to be the weapon of choice in the Pacific naval war, a truly bizarre experiment bore phenomenal fruit. Two Great Lakes passenger ships, both of them side-wheel paddle steamers, were converted to aircraft carriers and used to train fledgling pilots and crews in the vagaries of carrier operations. Yes, folks, Lake Michigan and the Chicago lakefront (including the now-defunct Glenview Naval Air Station) played host to the only paddle-wheel, freshwater aircraft carriers in the world. I won’t ruin the story for you – you can find the TV show “Heroes on Deck” running on PBS this weekend, or go to and download the hour-long show or buy a DVD copy of the show. And please – do so. Learn and remember this story. Thousands of Navy men lived and learned aboard and around these ships, and as in all things war, some made the ultimate sacrifice. You can even see two of the planes that served on these carriers – an F4F Wildcat at O’Hare Airport, and an SBD Dauntless at Midway Airport, also in my hometown.

The second story is a bit farther from home for me, but no less important. The BBC has briefly told the story of a certain Japanese gentleman, Shigeaki Mori. A survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bombing, he spent decades of his life searching for the relatives of a group of US POWs who died in the bombing. In the years before the Internet, Google, and other such conveniences, Mr. Mori-san used a Japanese-American dictionary to write out English phrases, then called to the United States to EVERY person in the hometown in question with a matching surname, or wrote letters blindly addressed to town halls asking if there were relatives – all at his own expense. He has also authored a book on the subject, A Secret History of U.S. Servicemembers Who Died in Atomic Bomb, and his story has also been covered by filmmaker Barry Frechette in the film Paper Lanterns. He is now trying to do the same for Dutch POWs, captured in the Dutch East Indies, who died in the bombing of Nagasaki.

So as we head into this Memorial Day weekend, remember those who gave their lives so that the rest of us could live in peace. And remember the ongoing efforts by people such as the group at Heroes On Deck and Shigeaki Mori, who have dedicated their lives to making sure that those who died are never forgotten.

This entry was posted in Aviation History, Military History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Two Little-Known WW2 Stories You Should Know

  1. Archon's Den says:

    The hidden or forgotten facts that you dig up make mere history so much more real. 🙂

  2. Good reminders for the people who claim that everything is already known and that nothing interesting can be uncovered after 70 years.

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